17 August 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Lagniappe, Learning, and Louis Armstrong

chalkboardMany students of many ages are all going “back to school” today. I wasn’t aware of it because I have any school age children, I knew it was happening because of all the back-to-school sales being promoted by stores and by all the Facebook posts of relief by my friends who do have school age children.

It’s a shame that we look returning to a classroom as “going back to school” when the most interesting lessons are the ones we assign ourselves.

Don’t you think you learn more when you’re truly interested in a topic, rather than when homework is assigned? Don’t you dig deeper into a topic and consult more references when your curiosity is piqued than when you have a test schedule for next Friday?

The great thing about discovering knowledge when it’s not assigned to you, is that you get to pick the topic. You don’t have to remember all the important dates of the French and Indian War or remember how to spell Sacajawea.  Unless you want to.

I was once assigned to do a report on Louisiana in the third grade. It was actually pretty interesting, but among the things I was required to deliver by way of facts about the state (the capital is Baton Rouge, the state bird is the brown pelican, the state flower is the magnolia), I also learned about Louis Armstrong. I found Satchmo and his story infinitely more interesting than the state I was required to learn about. For the next month I dove into books and music about the jazz trumpeter. I had elected to learn to play trumpet the previous year, and Armstrong’s work made me look at that brass horn in a completely different light.

I also learned the word “lagniappe” from a chapter Mark Twain wrote about New Orleans in his book “Life on the Mississippi“.

Lagniappe is defined as “a small gift given to a customer with a purchase“;consider it the 13th donut or cookie in what is known as a “baker’s dozen”. Sometimes it’s also used to reference a tip or gratuity for service, but I like the third definition better: “an unexpected or indirect benefit“.

Ironically, lagniappe is what I received from the assignment to do a report on Louisiana. Having the chance to discover Louis Armstrong on my own (without it becoming required reading or learning about him because there would be a test on Friday) was the unexpected gift I received as part of doing that report.

What unexpected gift will you receive if you dive deeper into learning something new about a subject in which you’re truly interested?